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NCAA Round Four
Coming into the game I said, “The only way the Spartans lose this game is to make mental mistakes and give it to Louisville,” I guess for this game I am a prophet. Louisville outplayed, outhustled and outlasted the Michigan State Spartans.
Sure fire Hall of Fame Louisville coach Rick Pitino said, “Well, our guys prepared really hard this week for this game. We talked about what we wanted to accomplish with this tournament. We’re proud of them. The whole focus — we watched Ohio State and Michigan State game and it was as rough a basketball game as I’ve seen since I’ve been a coach. And our guys were very, very impressed with Michigan State. And we had three goals coming into this: One was to stop the three; two was to try and outrebound them, which is a daunting task; and then three, we wanted to protect Gorgui with our life.”
The Spartans were out rebounded by a 39-36 margin. They also had 15 turnovers to the Cardinals 10. The Cardinals defense held MSU to just 28% shooting while MSU held them to 38%.
Louisville center Gorgui Dieng summed up the game best saying, “When we came here we know we’re going to face — this game — it could have been nice, it could have been a very nice game. We knew we were going to come to a war. We need to be tougher than them to win this game. And when they also have free control their big men, and stay out of foul trouble, they’re going to help us win this game. And we try our best. We listen what coach want us to do. And win this game.”
If you would have asked Tom Izzo prior to the game if he would like Draymond Green to have the ball in his hands attacking the Louisville press he would have gladly said yes, and Pitino agreed. Pitino said, “You know what our press does a lot of times? It just wears people out. We didn’t really want to trap them. We wanted to run and jump to get to the legs. And for us to have Draymond bring the ball up was great. We said just turn them, just turn them, just turn them, because then he wouldn’t have as much energy as he would other times.
Certain people we try to create steals or traps or rotate. Tonight we just tried to get into our zone, wear them out and neutralize the backboard. Because this is a team that’s plus eight. And our guys, we felt we could win.
But when they watched the Ohio State game, I immediately felt very uncomfortable showing that at the end, because we watched the whole game, because they were so strong and tough that I immediately showed them the Indiana game at IU, so they realized that Michigan State –that was a great basketball game. And we immediately had to get their confidence going again.”
Obviously the Cardinals had scouted the Spartans well. It is often said in coaching that you take away what another team does best and make them beat you with their ancillary skills. That was the Pitino plan.
Pitino now has a perfect 10-0 overall record in Sweet 16 games, 4-0 at Louisville as the head coach.
Michigan State had seven blocks among five different players. Draymond Green garnered his 22nd double-double of the season and perhaps even more impressive was that it was his third straight in the Big Dance, with 13 points and 16 rebounds, along with 2 assists. Entering the game Green had a total of 40 points and 25 rebounds, along with 16 assists.
Draymond Green leaves MSU now as the all time rebounding king based on this performance. A great accomplishment that one-day will mean so much to him when his jersey is raised at the Breslin, but not tonight.
The Spartans picked the wrong night to have so many poor stat totals. 44 points and .286 shooting percentage are the worst ever for the Spartans in the dance.
Heading into this game, in their last five games, MSU had averaged 75.8 points, shooting 54% from the field, including 44% from the 3-point range.
Usually after big games it is the Spartans who are talking defense and toughness, but tonight it was Louisville. Cardinals freshman forward Chane Behanan said afterwards in the locker room “Defense was a factor. We had to band together. We scouted them a lot through the whole process and the entire week. I think we did a tremendous job stopping them. It was a heck of a game. It was fun playing.”
Izzo summed up the game in his first 15 seconds of his post-game press conference, when he succinctly said, “It’s hard to feel bad because Louisville deserved it. They out boarded us. They took it at us pretty good. And every time we cut the lead, they brought it up.”
It was easy to tell the Spartans were in for a lot of trouble when the mental mistakes hit an all time high. On an inbounds play from the baseline the Spartans sent Draymond Green long to receive the ball. He never had the chance when it looked like a John Smoltz curve ball and went out of bounds.
After the game senior captain Austin Thornton said of that play, “It certainly felt like that at that point. That’s something I haven’t done all year long. And the ball just kind of slipped on the initial pass. You can’t just look at one play. Give Louisville an enormous amount of credit. They put pressure on us from start to finish. They really disrupted what we’re used to doing. It’s hard to game plan for how athletic and how quick and how good those guards are, and the big guy, he did a great job in the middle, too.”
Izzo is widely respected for his scheduling each year early in the season. His Spartans finally met a team in the dance that they had no film to look back on with how they played. Izzo addressed it, “They’re a very athletic team, they’re a different team than we played. We always play a lot of different teams, and yet that’s one we never faced, so maybe it was a bad match-up for us.”
Senior Brandon Wood had a nice game scoring 14 points, but he found no comfort in that. He said in the locker room, ““It was more just us not focusing as much as we should. Maybe we let their pressure get to us a little bit but, it just is what it is. We made some layups and we missed some. That’s just how the game goes.”
For sure the season ends with some: what if’s and woulda, shoulda and couldas, but think back to the start. Out of the top 25 with almost no expectations other than simply wanting to get back to the NCAA tournament to keep the consecutive years there in place.
The Spartans did that, won another B1G title, won the B1G Tournament, got a #1 see and made the sweet sixteen. I have always said and I maintain that any season that raises a legitimate banner (MSU guidelines) is a good season.
It was the wrong time for the Spartans to play their worst game of the season. It happened on the night that Louisville played their best of the season. A fact not lost on either coach.
Disappointed here in the desert? For sure. Down? No way. This has been another great season for MSU basketball. Now the questions turn to the next one.
The bright side? Five years ago who would have thought the sting of a basketball season ended perhaps early would be comforted by spring football. Mark Dantonio kicks off the 2012 season on Tuesday.